published Thursday, July 28th, 2011

‘Guest’ workers come legally to the U.S.

Santiago Braulio, 33, points to pictures at his home in the village of Tuilcanabaj in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala of when he worked in Florida and Chattanooga. This would have been Braulio's fifth time coming to Chattanooga as a guest worker to work at Dawson Lawn Service, Inc. but his visa was denied. (Carlos Ventura for the Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Santiago Braulio, 33, points to pictures at his home in the village of Tuilcanabaj in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala of when he worked in Florida and Chattanooga. This would have been Braulio's fifth time coming to Chattanooga as a guest worker to work at Dawson Lawn Service, Inc. but his visa was denied. (Carlos Ventura for the Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Between Two Worlds

WHAT IS THE H-2B PROGRAM?

* It allows employers to bring foreign workers temporarily to the United States and do nonagricultural jobs on a one-time, seasonal or intermittent basis.

* An employer must show there are not sufficient U.S. workers to do the temporary job and that the employment of the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers doing similar jobs.

* The U.S. Department of Labor processes all H-2B applications on a first-in, first-out basis.

* Congress sets a limit of 66,000 new H-2B visas in a fiscal year.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor


CHANGES TO H-2B PROGRAM

* Starting in 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor will require employers who use the program to pay U.S. and guest workers the highest rate of the federal, state or local minimum wage.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

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TUILCANABAJ, Guatemala — Lisandro Braulio was 16 when he made what he calls one of the worst mistakes of his life.

His father, Domingo Braulio, had told him to wait until he turned 18 to come to the United States as a guest worker, just like his father had done, but he ignored the advice and crossed into America illegally.

He went home to Guatemala in 2007 and later returned to the United States under the guest worker program known as H-2B, just like his father. This year was going to be Lisandro Braulio’s fourth time in Chattanooga under the program, but his past reached up and grabbed him.

Border protection agents in the Atlanta airport denied his visa and sent him back to Guatemala because they discovered he’d entered the country illegally six years ago. Now the 22-year-old is back in Guatemala and without a job to support his wife, Romelia Sánchez, and their 18-month-old son, Eliezer.

“I felt pain in my heart because I was already over there [in the United States],” he said from outside his parents’ home in the Guatemalan village of Tuilcanabaj in the state of Quetzaltenango.

Several siblings and nephews of the Braulio family have come to the United States since 2001 under the H-2B program to work for Chattanooga’s Dawson Lawn Service.

For those who come, it’s an opportunity to work and send money back home without fear of deportation. Employers say the program allows them to hire workers they can’t otherwise find.

The Braulios said each year they worked in Chattanooga, they were able to save about $9,000, an amount that would take about seven years to earn on a Guatemalan salary of less than $5 a day.

Lisandro Braulio wanted to work for two or three more years in Chattanooga, buy a car and a house in Guatemala and start a business there with his father and uncles.

He borrowed $1,300 for his plane ticket from Guatemala to Atlanta and now he’s not sure how he is going to pay it back.

Lisandro Braulio’s uncle, 33-year-old Santiago Braulio, also was denied a guest worker visa this year. Both previously had come to the United States illegally and lied about that in their application for the visa, making them ineligible. But both men had been approved in the past, and both came to Chattanooga and worked for the lawn care company.

A U.S. State Department official said the government can deny a visa for a number of reasons.

“The most common reason we deny visas is when an applicant fails to convince a consular officer he or she is going to return to their home country of residence after a short stay in the United States,” the official said.

Sometimes people like the Braulios may be approved because the government considers an application only with the information it has on hand. “Most likely, in cases where there was an offense committed before the visa application ... we didn’t have that information at the time of the application,” the official said.

Walter Dawson, the Braulios’ Chattanooga employer, has used the guest worker program for 10 years. He usually has a crew of about 14 workers, the majority of whom are guest workers, he said.

The Braulios were two of his best employees, he said.

“[Their situation] is an obvious indication that someone who was here illegally wants to be here legally and went home to come back here legally, went through all that effort and then gets turned down,” he said. “It doesn’t promote legal immigration.”

Dawson said he turned to the H-2B program because he was unable to find quality local workers. Some didn’t like his nonsmoking rule; some failed a drug test. Others were hired but only showed up for a few days before quitting, he said.

But Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, an immigration-reduction organization, said with such high unemployment rates nationwide, he finds it hard to believe employers can’t find American workers.

“What’s happened — landscaping is a good example — is that lots of landscapers over the last decade have gotten very used to the foreign labor streams, both legal and illegal,” he said. “They’ve lost their knowledge on recruiting American workers.”

In Beck’s view, if employers paid more and got better at recruiting, American teenagers and college students would start doing those jobs again. And if they still can’t find an American workforce, employers should rethink the business they are in, he said.

“If you cannot attract American workers, then I think you can probably say the job [except for agriculture] isn’t probably worth doing,” Beck said.

Beck’s organization also advocates for the government to reduce by 75 percent the number of immigrants coming here legally.

“The only immigrants coming into the country should be spouses, minor children, special-needs refugees and [those] with world-class skills,” he said. “It makes no sense, with the current unemployment, to bring in any foreign workers at this time.”

Guest worker programs started in 1942 in the United States. The H-2A allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for agricultural jobs, while the H-2B is for nonagricultural seasonal jobs. For both, employers have to prove they cannot find local workers.

The number of H-2B petitions filed by employers increased from 2000 to 2007; however, that began to change in 2008 — the beginning of the recession — and numbers have now dropped to levels seen 10 years ago.

In another wrinkle, the U.S. government this year increased the wage employers must pay guest workers.

In 2012, Dawson must pay his landscape laborers $12.33 an hour, up from his $7.75 starting wage this year, he said. The average wage of his employees is about $10.

“It would mean a $5 wage increase; I don’t think I would be able to do that,” he said, especially when most of his competitors wouldn’t have to pay that $12 an hour because it only applies to those using the program.

“[The H-2B program has been] a constant frustration, a constant uncertainty, but it has provided me with a quality legal employee that I have not been able to find locally,” Dawson said.

Back in Guatemala, both of the Braulios now say it was wrong for them to lie.

“The Bible says if you do something behind someone’s back, it will come to light. It’s not good to lie,” Santiago Braulio, 33, said from his potato field. “I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.”

Inside his concrete home, built with Chattanooga-earned money, he keeps a U.S. flag and a wall full of pictures from his days working in Florida and Chattanooga.

For the Braulios, staying in Guatemala means they must work in the fields and only make a couple of dollars a day. They won’t be able to buy their families new shoes this year and must get used to life with no cable, less meat and fewer cell phone calls.

Santiago Braulio said he would like to return to the United States some day, but not illegally.

“What would [the U.S. government] think of me? That I’m worse than a kid, that I don’t understand,” he said.

Besides, just thinking of the journey that brought him illegally to Florida in 1998 is a good deterrent.

He was one of 90 people crammed into a tank trailer designed to carry gasoline. The immigrants straddled wood benches as if they were riding horses, he said.

The uncomfortable trip lasted 20 hours from the Guatemala border through Mexico. It was 20 hours of no bathroom breaks, no talking, no eating and no leaning against the tank.

And that was followed by a 12-hour walk across the desert to get into the United States.

The Braulios had plans of starting a business selling calling cards and tools in Guatemala. Now those plans must be postponed, possibly abandoned, Santiago Braulio said.

“We’ll have to better ourselves here,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting.”

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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TSCinSFO said...

I totally agree with Roy Beck of Numbers USA. It is insanity to accept over 100,000 legal immigrants every month when our economy is only producing less than half of that number for Americans. The H-B2 visa program should end all together. Migrant farm workers use a differant type of visa. I used to work during my high school years doing lawncare work and there are 1,000's of kids and under educated adults that would do these jobs. Don't give me the line that American kids are lazy. The rich kids maybe. But I helped our family all through H.S. and always had walking around money and spent it that went right back into the American economy. The problem with Guatemala and other 3rd world countries is overpopulation. We could accept over 100k/month from Guatemala alone and it still wouldn't change the poverty and conditions there. The only way they can do that is their society has to change the elite class rule and wages on their own. If we ran off all illegal aliens, they would have a revolutions across Mexico and Central America demanding a minimum wage which would be the right step for them to improve their lives and economies.

July 28, 2011 at 12:48 a.m.
observer279 said...

So people complain when people come here illegally to work... because they should "enter legally".. now they complain when they do so. Wow.

July 28, 2011 at 8:17 a.m.
Veritas said...

Perla "Propaganda" Trevizo strikes again. Give it up Perla, your propaganda isn't working. Take your act south of the border, you'll find more sympathetic readers and you can write in your native language.

July 28, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.

Yes, guest workers come here legally. And in order to deter illegal immigration after the last several amnesties, they added that if you come here illegally, you will lose any chance of becoming legal. So you ignored the law. And now you must suffer the consequences of your poor choice. Being poor is not an excuse to break the law. Ask the people in jails around the country who have been held accountable for their choices.

Also, I am really sick of the "breaking up families" cries. Think about it. Illegal aliens are CHOOSING to leave their kids behind in order to return. Lots of American citizens live in other countries. These parents are willfully leaving their children behind, and again the reason they are in this position in the first place is THEIR choice. Stop blaming everyone else for your choices. On the sickening claims that enforcement is "breaking up families", I call BULL***T

July 28, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.
Wilder said...

The business sector, the only beneficiary of illegal aliens, pushes the understanding and tolerance theme to take the pressure off of the politicians - they also throw lots of money their way, which you can verify at the ethics.georgia website. You will find the maximum monetary donations that the law will allow to Nathan Deal from all of the large employers of illegal aliens in Georgia. The Carpet Cartel is front and center.

If our corrupt politicians won't do anything to deter the employers, you can always boycott whatever they are selling. Don't eat at their restaurants, don't use their services, don't buy their products.

July 28, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.
rolando said...

Is there a website that posts that last info, Wilder? Hitting the employers in the pocketbook has surefire results.

July 28, 2011 at 1:02 p.m.
speakingup said...

Interesting the facts and quotes used from Roy Beck, the executive director of Numbers USA, an immigration-reduction organization. "He finds it hard to believe employers can’t find American workers." "What’s happened — landscaping is a good example — is that lots of landscapers over the last decade have gotten very used to the foreign labor streams, both legal and illegal,” he said. “They’ve lost their knowledge on recruiting American workers.”

Actually, Mr. Beck....recruiting American workers involves extensive advertising, fielding calls, setting appointments to fill out an applications, background checks, drug screening, checking references and job training for individualize technique for each client. All of which we expect to do. This month we hired 12 employees, paying well above minimum wage and only 2 are still employed. So we still continue the process, looking for employees who will perform efficiently for our clients and company.

Mr. Beck has made irrational statements: “If you cannot attract American workers, then I think you can probably say the job [except for agriculture] isn’t probably worth doing,” Seriously?

Mr. Beck said 3/22/10 in an interview with David Neiwert: "Those 200, 000 immigrations marchers are all 'thieves'. A thief is somebody who takes something that does not belong to them. They come here and take jobs that do not belong to them. They take wages fromt he most vulnerable members of the society. So the thing is--I'm not saying--I think most of them are probably good people. I think most of them don't even think of themselves as thieves. They've been taught that the border isn't really that important. I don't blame them, I blame our governement. But the fact is, those are people who came to steal a job and what verybody's lobbying for today is to keep the job that they stole." The jobs they 'stole' are jobs unwanted or abused by the local work force. And speaking of theft and stealing...consider the local work force that steals the good name of the small business by not performing the job well, pawning equipment, skipping job assignments and recording it as work done, doing a half done job and not being dependable in showing up for scheduled hours. The H2B program has been workable because it brings workers with excellent work ethic to do the job LEGALLY so the clients are satisfied. It enables the small business to continue to prosper so it can in turn purchase goods from other venders that in essence keeps the economy thriving.

July 28, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.

@speakingup:

"It enables the small business to continue to prosper so it can in turn purchase goods from other venders that in essence keeps the economy thriving."

Perhaps it is keeping Guatemala's economy going, but in case you haven't noticed, ours has tanked. That means workers are ABUNDANT. Legal ones. If you are having problems hiring qualified workers, there must be more to that story than you are telling.

http://blogs.ajc.com/business-beat/2011/07/28/metro-atlantas-jobless-rate-jumps-to-10-5-percent-in-june/

July 28, 2011 at 3:48 p.m.
Wilder said...

@Rolando

One site you might want to check out is wehirealiens.com

@speakingup

I have managed "immigrants", and I have managed lower socioeconomic classed Southerners. From my personal experience, I had rather have one English speaking West Virginian than five non English speaking "immigrants". I have worked good ole Southern boys who will stand their own against anyone in the human race. You apparently aren't putting any effort into the hiring process.

I found a landscaping crew in Dalton that has no "immigrants", and you couldn't work any harder, or do a better job than these guys. They are out there folks.

One other plus. Southerners don't mail their earnings out of the country - they quickly get plowed right back into the local economy.

One other point - I have all wood flooring, and I made sure that the wood wasn't associated with any of the local carpet mills, who have acquired other categories of flooring companies. I would have dirt floors before I would buy another square inch of carpet.

July 28, 2011 at 5:57 p.m.
Wilder said...

@ libertaians

You might want to read Georgia's law - I have, several times. What is missing is any provision to punish the employers, plus a lot of other provisions that the lobbyist($$$$$)successfully excluded.

What the politicians and businesses are counting on, is that the electorate remains ignorant - reading a lot of the post here, so far so good.

You are going to have to look beyond the newspapers for factual information. Don't rely on their summary of the Georgia law, for example - read it yourself, it isn't that difficult.

add www1. in front of: legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/sum/hb87.htm

If the largest employers of illegal aliens in Georgia are donating the maximum amounts the law allows to politicians, you can rest assured that they are getting something in return. This isn't about Democrats vs Republicans, its about crooks.

July 28, 2011 at 6:37 p.m.
sage1 said...

American workers take money from the economic bucket and put it all right back in. These people take money from the economic bucket and send about 1/3 to 1/2, by their own admission, out of the country. Explain to me how this is a good thing for America, our economy and our workforce?

July 28, 2011 at 9:26 p.m.
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